LONDON — Britain's advertising watchdog criticized a newspaper ad by Royal Dutch Shell that portrays the outline of an oil refinery with flowers sprouting from its chimneys, saying that two of its environmental claims were likely to mislead readers.
The Advertising Standards Authority, which issued the ruling Tuesday, only has the authority to remove ads from Britain's media, which the oil producer has already done.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it accepted the decision but found it disappointing.
"The advertisement was one part of a series that aim at opening and deepening the debate about meeting the energy challenge. We believe that the advertisement is a creative and striking way of drawing attention to the problem of waste disposal," Shell said in a statement.
The ad appeared last spring in newspapers in Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The Dutch advertising watchdog also called the ad misleading, but complaints were dismissed by regulators in Belgium and Germany.
Groups such as Friends of the Earth filed the U.K. complaint against the ad, created by the J. Walter Thompson agency, which were headlined "Don't Throw Anything Away. There is No Away."
It showed the outline of an oil refinery, which had chimneys producing flowers. Part of the ad read: "We use our waste CO2 to grow flowers, and our waste sulfur to make super-strong concrete. Real energy solutions for the real world."
The U.K. complaint said the image of refinery chimneys emitting flowers misrepresented the environmental impact of Shell's refineries.
The complaint alleged the ads implied that Shell used all of its waste CO2, or carbon dioxide, to grow flowers, whereas the group believed only 0.325 percent of Shell's emissions were used to grow flowers, and the waste sulfur claim implied all Shell's waste sulfur was used to make concrete.
Shell told the authority it supplied waste C02 to greenhouse growers who had previously burned natural gas to produce CO2 to improve growing conditions. Had the growers continued burning natural gas, it would have resulted in nearly 17,000 tons of additional CO2 being emitted each year, Shell said.
The oil company said it has developed a new method of using waste sulfur produced during the refining process as a binder in concrete production, instead of cement. Shell said 8 tons of sulphur-strengthened concrete had been produced so far, but production was expected to grow considerably in the next 10 years.
The Advertising Standards Authority dismissed the complaint about the image of chimneys but said the other two claims in the ad were likely to mislead readers.
"In the absence of qualification, most readers were likely to interpret the claim 'We use our waste CO2 to grow flowers,' especially in the context of the image and the headline claim 'Don't throw anything away there is no away,' to mean that Shell used all, or at least the majority, of their waste CO2 to grow flowers, whereas the actual amount was a very small proportion, when compared to the global activities of Shell," the ruling said.
Regarding the waste sulfur claim, the authority said "readers were likely to interpret the claim 'We use ... our waste sulfur to make super-strong concrete' to mean that Shell used all, or at least the majority, of their waste sulfur to make super-strong concrete."
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